Miso is an umami-rich paste made by mixing beans (historically, soybeans), salt, and koji, a grain (usually rice) which has been inoculated and fermented with a mold, Aspergillus oryzae. The flavor and complexity of miso is unmatched even compared to other fermented dishes. It is at once savory, sweet, salty, and powerful.
White miso is lighter and sweeter than its more popular and traditional cousin, red miso (akamiso). That’s due to the shorter fermentation time, and higher ratio of koji (which is carbohydrate rich and produces a sweeter finished product). Many modern commercial white misos are “cooked” rather than fermented, creating a finished product in a matter of days, not weeks.
The easiest way to start making miso is to buy pre-made dried koji, grains (rice or barley) which have been inoculated with the A. oryzae mold culture. Local Asian markets usually carry dried “firm granular” koji. You can also find online merchants like this one.
The making of miso…
- 200-300 grams (about 1.5 cups) dried beans (chickpea, adzuki, or other legume)
- 500 grams (about 3.5 cups) dried firm granular koji OR 560 grams fresh koji
- 70 grams (2.5 oz. by volume) fine sea salt
- 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons/8 ml) mature miso
- filtered water
- half-gallon or larger glass or ceramic vessel
- jar or wine bottle which fits inside mouth of vessel
- paper grocery bag, or tight-woven canvas or cloth bag (in which vessel can fit)
- masking or packing tape
- Soak beans in 3 times the weight of filtered water overnight (up to 24 hours).
- Drain beans from soaking liquid.
- Bring ½ gallon (2L) of filtered water to a boil, then add beans and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until soft (cooking time varies by bean).
- Drain beans over a colander placed over a bowl or container to capture the cooking liquid. Add beans to a large mixing bowl.
- Dissolve salt in 400 ml (14 oz.) of the cooking liquid you reserved. If using fresh koji, cut this in half (half the salt and half the cooking liquid). Let brine mixture cool down to 100°F/38°C.
- Mash the beans, leaving about ¼ of the beans intact.
- Add mature miso to the beans. Stir until it is incorporated.
- Once bean mixture has cooled down down to 100°F/38°C, add the warm brine and then stir in koji. Mix well for 10 minutes. The koji will absorb the cooking liquid.
- You should be able to make balls with the mixture. If it crumbles in your hand, add more of the cooking liquid.
- Sprinkle water on the inside walls of the fermenting jar/vessel, then quickly add sea salt to the bottom and sides so it sticks to the inside of the jar.
- Pack the vessel with the mixture, ensuring there are no air bubbles in the jar.
- Once packed, tap vessel on a towel or wooden cutting board several times to ensure that any air bubbles in the mixture come to the surface.
- Add remaining salt to the top layer of the mixture.
- Add a weight such as a glass bottle or plate to the top of the mixture. This will weigh it down and allow the tamari to rise to the surface during fermentation.
- Carefully place the vessel into a paper or canvas/cloth bag. Staple and/or tape it shut so no insects can enter. Write the date on the bag.
- Store it in an unheated space for at least six months (until next cool season), and over one summer. You can ferment as long as 24 months.
- Carefully open the bag and remove the vessel.
- Remove the weight. Scoop offt any funky mold from the top surface.
- Blend into a smooth paste using a blender, food processor, etc.
- Pack contents into a glass jar. If using a metal lid, store with a layer of parchment paper between the metal lid and the lip of the jar.
- Store in the refrigerator. Lasts several months.
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